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This is something that I've thought about off-and-on, and while reading a Hot Question on English Language Learners SE recently I followed a link to a meta Q&A there called Not so fast! (When should I accept my answer?).

I had been thinking, and this Q&A presents it really well, that it seems like many Q&As on GIS SE that have answers accepted not long after the question is asked only have one answer, whereas many that don't have accepted answers (or answers are accepted later) may have 2 or 3 answers. I don't have any numbers to back this up though, this is just an unscientific observation.

Do Questions with Accepted answers put people off adding their own (potentially better) answers? Do we accept too early and therefore lower the chance of getting an amazing answer while settling for one that may or may not actually answer the question well?

The ELL SE Q&A links to a Meta SE Q&A How does accepting an answer work? which talks about when we should accept answers

Accepting an answer is important as it both rewards posters for solving your problem and informs others that your issue is resolved.

However, that post also says:

You might wait 24 to 48 hours to give other people a chance to give you a better answer. A question with an accepted answer isn't as likely to receive further attention as one without an accepted answer.

Are we discouraging additional answers to questions by accepting answers too quickly?

Of course the flip-side to this is that if we recommend people hold off a bit before accepting answers, they may forget and never accept any at all...


I did a bit of a query on Stack Exchange Data Explorer to find the average number of answers if a) answer accepted within a day of the question being asked, vs b) answer accepted more than a day after the question asked.

Average Number of Answers for Quick Accept vs Slow Accept

  • 1.43 - Average number of answers where an answer is accepted within a day
  • 1.66 - Average number of answers where the answer isn't accepted for more than a day

The difference doesn't sound huge, but if I make the number of days higher the value grows. In other words, the longer it takes for an answer to be accepted, the more answers that are added to the question. Hopefully there's nothing wrong with my SQL or my maths here! Data Explorer doesn't actually expose the time an answer is accepted, only the date, so I can't refine this much better.

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I think that there is much merit in the idea of giving the community up to a couple of days before feeling any form of peer pressure to accept an answer, but I think that if an answer appears to perfectly answer your question then it is perfectly fine to accept it as soon as possible after it is posted.

Conversely, if no answer helps you a lot then there should be no pressure felt to ever accept an answer. If the community thinks that you are "holding out" unfairly I am sure you will see it in a low (perhaps negative) vote on your question against high voting on the answer(s).

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Basing on my (short) experience, I think that it depends on who is asking.

GIS SE is followed by a very heterogeneous audience, from beginners to experienced users. In general, both of them are looking for a solution to their issues and react differently to answers.

A beginner tends to switch between an it works / it doesn't work statement. He generally asks simple questions that don't require a detailed description of the problem and that can be solved using the most common tools or a few lines of code: in other words, he is satisfied when he receives the magic formula that solves the issue. From this point of view, quickly accepting an answer that solves the issue is a good practice because it worked for the user, hence it has to be accepted as clearly stated on the Tour page:

Accepting doesn't mean it's the best answer, it just means that it worked for the person who asked.

So, the problem is solved at that moment. After some time, it may happens that the accepted answer doesn't work for another user having the same issue and, in this case, two possible scenarios arise:

  1. this user comments on the answer and obtains a clarification or an edit on the answer itself, so the answer still remains the best solution;
  2. this user don't receive enough clarifications from the answerer and he adds his own solution as a new answer; this operation will be notified to the OP and he is free to accept a new (better) solution unless he has become inactive in the while: if this is the case, the new answer, however, will probably receive some upvotes and it will be seen from everyone looking for a solution.

There is a third scenario where a user finds a new solution and posts it as a separate answer, but this has the same consequences as for step 2.

An experienced user, instead, tends to evaluate the quality of the answer in a more critical way because he has in mind a specific goal: this means that he is less inclined to accept the first working answer or an answer that doesn't perfectly fit his needs (so, a magic formula would not be enough here).


From the explanation above, it follows that, with reference to the mentioned post from the Meta SE Q&A How does accepting an answer work?, a beginner tends to follow this rule (mostly the final part):

Don't hesitate to accept an answer that is well-written, suggests a good practice and works for you.

while an experienced user is more inclined to this one:

Otherwise, even if there are answers that are good enough but that you're not entirely satisfied by, you might wait 24 to 48 hours to give other people a chance to give you a better answer. A question with an accepted answer isn't as likely to receive further attention as one without an accepted answer.

The real problem is probably given by occasional users, which don't contribute to the growing of GIS SE since they are only interested in solving their problem without adding anything to the community (and they will never read eventual updates about their questions). In fact, regardless of his experience, an active user knows when there are new answers to his question and if they add something to the issue; therefore, since he is an active user, he probably shares the GIS SE philosophy without being afraid of posting a new (useful) answer even if another one was already accepted

In conclusion, I sincerely prefer having accepted answers with simple solutions than waiting for potentially better answers which probably never will be written.

  • Nice answer, although I don't fully agree with this statement "a beginner tends to follow this rule: Don't hesitate to accept an answer that is well-written, suggests a good practice and works for you" - rather I believe a beginner tends to follow the rule Don't hesitate to accept an answer that works for you - the well-written and following good practice may not actually come into it, which is kind of the point of my question - are we missing out on better written and better practice answers due to accepting too quick? – Midavalo May 14 '17 at 22:06
  • I think it would be better to recommend you might wait 24 to 48 hours to give other people a chance to give you a better answer. A question with an accepted answer isn't as likely to receive further attention as one without an accepted answer, which is how it was treated when I saw it on the ELL SE. – Midavalo May 14 '17 at 22:07
  • @Midavalo I agree with you about the beginner's rule and I only tried to assign one of them to him, so you are perfectly right. – mgri May 14 '17 at 22:23
  • @Midavalo About your second question, I think that well-written answers that also follow a good practice require some time for being written and they are really welcomed on GIS SE: they could be posted after other simpler answers that could be accepted in the while, but their impact is strictly related to the OP. In fact, the occasional user doesn't mind about the quality of the answer and you can't avoid this situation in any case, while it is expected that an active user will always try to maintain a high level of quality on the site contents. – mgri May 14 '17 at 22:25

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